Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann

Be. Still. Who has time for that?

I've been super overwhelmed lately with all of the distractions life has thrown at me - cleaning the house for company, trying to slog through insurance madness to get care for my daughter, chauffeuring, cooking, and all the other daily craziness we encounter - and have lost sight of "Be Still". It's fascinating to me how many times I have to get smacked upside the head with this concept before I will actually take a minute to refocus my life on what's really important.

It's not about getting my house ready for company; it's about welcoming someone who needs a place to stay and serving them with that which God has given us. It's not about getting things cleared with insurance; it's about taking the time to connect with my daughter and let her know that God loves her and has created her exactly how he wanted her to be - equipped for the exact ministry he has planned for her. It's about trusting that He has this.

Blogging is my time to be still and use writing to process what God is working and teaching me in my life. I have to keep that in focus so I don't get overwhelmed with what I feel like I should be doing, or pushing myself to get more followers. This is my outlet. My time to connect with other people going through life, hopefully give a little encouragement, and some inspiring and uplifting reading suggestions. I love that you're in this with me. You've got my prayers and constant thanks. xo

Told You Twice (Told You, #2)Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You're sure to love this story that will keep you on your toes and your heart in your throat.

Bo Corrigan is an incorrigible rapscallion whom you can't help but love from the moment Grace meets him in Told You So. Alexis is a charming whirlwind of fragile innocence and excitement to whom you can't help but be drawn. The two together have a magic dynamic. Her tenderness is the perfect compliment to Bo's over-the-top theatrics. I love love love the intertwining of pieces of literature and plays in his basic thought processes, and the wonderful author's (as always) lofty linguistic skills that somehow make it mesh perfectly into his character and the story.

I feel as if I found a kindred spirit in Exi, her character's history, struggles, and strengths bearing some similarities to my own, but I think that may be the case for a lot of people. I knew Kristen Heitzmann had a supernatural ability to weave a beautiful, dark, and thrilling suspense, but am happy to report that capacity carries over to her experiments in ChickLit/Romance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Told You So by Kristen Heitzmann

Today's post is hard-fought, y'all.

The book was a great read and so easy to write a raving review for, but my own words were hard to come by. Lately I've been struggling hardcore with depression, something that comes and goes in my life, but the last few days, it's been intense. All of this was then amplified by feeling super inadequate as an emerging book blogger after stumbling upon a SUPERB blog with a similar focus. (Check out Carrie Schmidt's fantastic blog HERE).

Funny thing about depression? The more you think about your circumstances, the more entrenched in it you become. What I've been reminded of recently (and this book is a great example) is that God has called us all to use our unique gifts for His glory, and that is what we are to focus on. There will always be someone better than I at any given thing that I put my mind to, so I have to let go of my competitive, perfectionist streak and simply do what I feel He wants me to.

God is faithful. He is good. He will use us if we are simply willing to step out in faith. That doesn't make it easy, or mean that we won't sometimes fail, but He can work even our mistakes out for His great purposes. Whatever it is that God has called you to do, I encourage you to take that next step, and watch him work. Remember to rejoice in everything, knowing that we are already victors through our wonderful Savior.

Told You So (Told You, #1)Told You So by Kristen Heitzmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a long time since I've read a romance novel that has challenged me intellectually, so I was thrilled to find Told You So. The thing I love most about Kristen's books is that they are written above a 5th grade reading level. The vocabulary had me reaching for a dictionary a time or two, and the construction of sentences and plot were masterful.

Told you so is fast paced and witty, the beautiful antagonism between the characters keeping you on your toes at all times. I loved their clever banter and sophisticated insults. Devin is oddly likable - he's got that tortured artist thing going for sure, and Grace is a force to be reckoned with. Their dialogue is perfection and their creative force "the zone" will definitely have your pulse spiking.

I love that Kristen's characters don't live in a Christian bubble. They are Christians in the world. As strange as it may sound, I love the theme of uncompromising failure in this book. When character's fall (as all must at one point or another), it is heartbreaking, but they stay true to their essence.

Definitely one of the best books I've read in the genre, I can hardly wait to get this review written before jumping into the next book in the series Told You Twice.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh

My heart seems to break over and over again nowadays. I think a lot of it has to do with seeing divorce permeate the relationships of my close friends and family members - maybe I would feel less passionate about it if I hadn't seen the effects it has on those I love. But I have. We're told by society that we should be happy. Happiness is a good thing, right? Sure, but God doesn't promise us happiness. He promises us persecution. Victory. Rest. Joy.

Happiness is fleeting. Joy is found in knowing our creator. Especially in marriage, we are called to sacrificial love. That doesn't sound very happy to me like 99% of the time. To be honest, I'm really selfish. I like my time to be mine. My husband occasionally does things that bug me. There are times when I think we should do one thing and my husband disagrees. I'm the first to say that I am not good at laying down my thoughts, desires, and even needs in submission to my husband (and probably even worse at submitting to God), but marriage is a process that changes you - refines you - and I'm still in process.

Okay, so we have to get through the times when it's not all peachy, but what marriage can withstand adultery? We like to write that off as the unforgivable sin because God made an allowance in the bible for those who had hardened their hearts, but isn't God in the business of changing hearts? Separation I understand. It's not healthy to be in a manipulative or abusive relationship, but what if we took the time apart to focus on having God as our #1 and praying that he will work a miracle in our spouse's heart? I see divorce as different than legal separation because while one gives you distance with an intention to work through the situation, the only additional "benefit" to divorce is the option to remarry. That's the point when you stop believing that God can overcome.

I know this is a touchy subject. I'm not saying this in judgment. I'm not condemning anyone here. I honestly mean this as encouragement to those going through a hard time in your marriage. God is bigger. He can change hearts, even the hardest ones. Can you find fulfillment in your relationship with God alone and be an intercessor for your spouse? I'm not saying that it's supposed to be easy, but I have seen marriages that survive and even thrive after unfaithfulness.

God seems to give us an "out" where divorce is concerned in the event of adultery in a couple places in the Bible. The problem with using that out is that the minute we start rationalizing our "right" to do something is the minute that we take God out of the equation. We are to stand up for truth, not for ourselves. On the contrary, we are supposed to be willing to lay down our lives for those who use and persecute us. (Check out Matthew 5 & Luke 6) Yes, it says to love those who persecute you, but what is love? "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends." And maybe those we're called to love would qualify as friends.

I hope this Valentine's day, no matter what your relationship status, you know that God so loves you. He has wonderful plans for you. He can give you joy even in unhappy circumstances. When we keep our eyes on Him first and foremost, everything in the background gets a little easier.

Change of Heart (Paper Hearts #2)Change of Heart by Courtney Walsh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Man, this one was almost physically painful for me to get through. Don't get me wrong, the writing style was magnificent and Courtney certainly has a talent for story telling, but I never want to read a Christian novel - however well written - which has me pulled toward rooting for a divorce. It's an absolutely detestable feeling.

Yes, this happens in real life. Christians get divorced. I've had a front row seat to too many of my friends and my family going through something like that. Truth be told I have radical views (even compared to most other Christians) on marriage and divorce, so that definitely elevated my dislike of this story.

I love the message that Courtney was trying to get across. Submit to God's will. I just think the execution was pretty much non-existent. Evelyn's character ends up happy. Yay. The problem is, can you find one single part of the story where she is actually submitting to God's will, or does she finally find her own happiness? Trevor pines after a married woman... for 10 years! He keeps saying he's submitting it to God's will, but his actions clearly speak otherwise.

Honestly, I wanted to give up on this book about a quarter of the way through, but I felt like in order to give it an honest review, I had to see it through to the end. The technical writing was great, conversation fluid, and characters were well developed, but sadly static and on the wrong side of a very precarious line of Christian morality.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh

I love Valentine's Day. I always have.

I think my favorite part of the holiday nowadays is that I finally have some traditions. I didn't grow up in a family with a lot of traditions, which made holidays and the like fun and spontaneous, but there is something to be said for those rites that help to get us in the spirit of the season. I've recently discovered that I have an overwhelming desire to start some traditions with my own family, and I think Valentine's Day is special because the tradition wasn't forced or contrived, it just kind of happened. It started when I was pregnant with my now-8-year-old and Mike (now husband, then boyfriend) and I were trying to figure out our next step. I was only 19 at the time, and after we found out I was pregnant, I moved in with my Mom after a wonderful streak of independence that led to some really bad choices.

So Valentine's Day rolls around. Mike is scheduled to work at PF Chang's that night, and I'm half way through my pregnancy with a nasty cold trying to catch up on housework. The doorbell rings and on my doorstep stands my sweet boyfriend with a heart-shaped pizza and a DVD of You've Got Mail. It's super corny, but I absolutely love it. Every year, no matter how poor, stressed, or tired we are, we get a heart-shaped pepperoni pizza from Papa Murphy's and eat while watching You've Got Mail. It will never get old.

Traditions - for the most part, I think - allow us to forget schedules and chaos and settle into a known event, allowing us to focus on the reason why we're doing rather than what we're doing. I love the idea of  Paper Hearts in this book. I'd love to hear about your holiday or birthday traditions, so feel free to comment or message me!

Paper HeartsPaper Hearts by Courtney Walsh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What starts out as a light and fun read beautifully transforms into a story with a true beating, broken heart. Living in a kitschy, love obsessed town, Abigail Pressman has a perfect plan for fulfilling all of her dreams - none of which include any silly romantic sensibilities.

After all, "Who needs a man when you have shelves a beautiful books and dreams of growth and success?"

The only problem? Jacob Willoughby has set out for a new start, and his redemption means crushing the dreams of his new tenant.

Abigail's inner monologues are hilarious and had me laughing out loud at her wonderful snarkiness! The chemistry between Abigail and Jacob gave me heart flutters and a twisty stomach. But, my goodness, the poignant, pithy moments gave me all the feels.

This was my first foray into the brilliance that is Courtney Walsh, but you'd better believe there will be many more to come. You will fall in love with this story that is light enough to be uplifting, but deeply moving at the same time. Masterful writing makes this a great book (especially around Valentine's Day!)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Before I Wake by Dee Henderson

Unpleasant experiences are a part of life. My most recent foray into this truth included car shopping. I guess it can be a fun experience - almost everyone who knew we were doing this responded with a "Oh, how fun!", but when you're on a time crunch because your family of four is down to one care with roughly 800 bazillion appointments every week and hate spending money to begin with, the search and purchase can be slightly stressful. Thankfully, we did find a van (my husband has a love affair with minivans... who knew?) that fit our specifications within our budget in a single weekend, but let me tell you, it was intense.

The cool thing was, we were able to buy a van in cash when the need arose. I'm always floored by God's provision in our lives - giving us more than we need with amazing faithfulness. Thanks to some crazy coincidences (that I think Someone had a hand in) we've never wanted for anything even when our youngest was born and we were down to one income, bringing in about half of what was considered "poverty". As frustrating as it can be to shop for a car or clothes or even groceries, I need to get better about reminding myself that it is a luxury that we can afford those things AND reminding myself where every good and perfect gift comes from.

Anyhew, (yes, I know that's not really a word) here's my review of Before I Wake by Dee Henderson. It's my first crime/suspense in the Christian genre, so feel free to drop me some other recommendations if you've got them!

Before I WakeBefore I Wake by Dee Henderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay, where do you begin in a book that doesn't end? Bad guy? who knows? Love interest? take a wild guess. You'll never know if you figured it out.

The technical writing is good: fluid conversation, great characters, perfect setting, excellent set-up, but the book leaves you wondering where the final chapter is. A certain amount of open-ended writing can leave you with wonderful possibilities with a strongly suggested path to follow, but this is so wide open it leaves you spinning in circles, frustrated with a lack of conclusion on any front.

I liked the spiritual questions and conversations. Nathan has deep, honest answers to some of the questions Rae wrestles with, but his answers are very real and personal.

The final straw for me was the constant use of 'for' as a conjunction. It threw off the pacing of the story and sounds like the author attempting to elevate otherwise common speech.

Apparently, Dee Henderson doesn't make a habit of premature endings in her books, and her technical writing is good enough that I'll be reading at least one other work by her, but this was not a great introduction and would probably deter me from reading her other stuff if she hadn't been so highly recommended.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Married 'til Monday by Denise Hunter

Have you ever had anything bad happen to you? First off, you're not alone. I am pretty confident that just about everyone would answer with the affirmative. What's worse is that a lot of the time, we let whatever happened play a part in our definition of who we are - maybe even if what happened was completely outside of our control.

While reading Married 'til Monday, I was again struck by the magnitude of God's grace in our lives. It seems to be a recurring theme throughout my own. Sometimes, we wear the shame of past events under a coat of isolation, thinking that if we just don't let anyone close enough, they won't see how broken we are. We can so easily convince ourselves that we're not worth loving, and eventually convince others because we constantly push them away. But the cool thing is, God doesn't give up. We are so precious to him even when we are in our most wretched state. 

But God demonstrates his great love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 8:5

Not only does he love us, but he proved it by literally giving his life for our (seemingly worthless) life. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 But it doesn't stop there, he goes on to transform us into a righteous (good, virtuous, upright, upstanding, decent) person. Our stain is no longer present and we are a new creation 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are then free to live the amazing life that God has planned for us Jeremiah 29:11.

This might seem a little old hat for those who have heard all of this before, but this is not a small thing! I was listening to someone the other day that said the reason for their testimony (they are known for their radical generosity) is that they never got over getting saved. I think a lot of us get complacent in our relationship with the Creator of everything, and forget just how awesome it is that He would even think about us, let alone die for us and give us the Holy Spirit to empower us in this life.

It's great getting to see this lived out by book characters - sometimes we can even learn from the mistakes of fictional people. Not only does Married 'til Monday dive into some deep waters with some of Abby's issues, it is also wildly entertaining on a surface level. Enjoy!

Married 'til Monday (Chapel Springs, #4)Married 'til Monday by Denise Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man, can Denise write intimacy! Her romantic moments are the perfect blend of juicy steaminess and wholesome affection. They're completely absorbing without going to far.

Ryan and Abby are probably my favorite characters in the Chapel Springs series. They're the best developed and it's the only book in the group in which both people grow emotionally and spiritually over the course of the story. They are both deep and their personalities really resonate with me.

I love Ryan's relentless pursuit of and desire to protect Abby. I often feel like she does throughout the book - flawed, shameful, and unworthy of love, but I love Ryan as a character manifestation of how God pursues us in the midst of our brokenness.

Excellent character dynamics, wonderful plot, and passionate romance make this a novel you'll want to read again.

Although this book is excellent as a stand-alone piece, right now the 4-book Chapel Springs collection is only $3.99 on Kindle. Go get yours now right HERE and fall in love with the whole McKinley family!